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  • Cheryl Tan

Mastering RRILEY's Newest Song In Apple's Spatial Audio Was A "No-Brainer"

If you haven't heard RRILEY's newest song "you should have said so", you should definitely go take a listen now. Preferably using Apple Music and in Spatial Audio, because that's actually how RRILEY intended for her song to be heard.

Credit: Zendyll Music

We had the opportunity to pick the brains of not only RRILEY, also known as Sandra Riley Tang, a member of local quartet The Sam Willows, but also Luke Nicholas Foo, the Studio Manager & Mixing and Mastering Engineer at Zendyll Music and even Benjamin Ong, or HYPEBONG, the Director/DP for the "you should have said so" music video. Here's what we learnt about why Spatial Audio was used, how it differs from normal stereo tracks, as well as which Apple products were used in the production of the song and the video.

Spatial Audio has always been impressive, and the spatialisation tech definitely shines in "you should have said so" with all the ASMR sounds in the background.

RRILEY explained: "We recorded and incorporated a lot of sounds you would associate with ASMR e.g. water pouring, keys, phone buzzing, even an air freshener and Spatial Audio allowed those sounds to have its own space to shine and made the song very immersive."

Credit: Zendyll Music

That being said, it's a delicate balancing act to ensure the resulting song sounds good.

When asked if there were any specific considerations, Luke mused: "With the amount of opportunity that Spatial Audio grants us, it sometimes can be easy to get too carried away in overloading the song with additional elements and forget that we still need the song to sound just as good when we mix it down in stereo."

After having heard a sample of the song in stereo as well as in Spatial Audio, I can certainly attest to how great both options sound.

But was it something RRILEY knew she wanted to incorporate from the start?

"Not initially. I knew I wanted to create the song in a world of its own and when I heard of the option for spatial audio, it was a no-brainer to say yes."

That's not the only part that Apple products played in this production though. Aside from software, Apple's hardware also played a major part, with Luke using the new MacBook Pro with the M1 Max chip to master the track with Logic Pro X.

Credit: Zendyll Music

"Most of my work is usually done in the studio on an iMac Pro as certain mixes tend to be particularly resource-intensive, even more so now with Spatial Audio. With the new MacBook Pro equipped with the M1 Max chip, I am now not only able to get all the performance I require (if not, more), but also the ability to be mobile with my projects," he enthused. "Scrolling through numerous audio tracks within a project on the new 120Hz display is a nice bonus too!"

I was rather curious about how different mastering for Spatial Audio would be as opposed to mastering in stereo, and Luke was kind enough to share his thoughts.

"Mixing and mastering in stereo always poses a huge challenge as we need to cram a great deal of sonic information into two speakers. But now, with multiple outputs at our disposal, we are no longer bound by stereo's structural limitations and mixes are able to breathe better."

Credit: Zendyll Music

If you've watched some of my earbud reviews, I've mentioned the propensity of Spatial Audio tracks to sound softer than if I was listening to them in stereo. Most people might see it as a drawback of the tech, but Luke disagrees.

"I personally feel that this only helps to serve the music better as dynamic range is preserved and masters are no longer completely "crushed" by incessant limiting and compression."

Credit: Zendyll Music

Even the music video was partially created with an Apple product, with half of the first scene where RRILEY gets out of her chair and the antagonist is revealed being shot with the iPhone 13 Pro.

It's certainly a good case for Apple's phones bearing the Pro moniker when professionals are willing to swap out their usual filming equipment and use footage shot with the phone for work.

That being said, shooting on an iPhone versus a professional camera is certainly an entirely different experience.

"The first thought that came to mind was how simple and intuitive it was," said HYPEBONG. "There is a learning curve when you first hold a professional camera in your hands with all the different technical jargons and numbers appearing on the screen, and it can be confusing to beginners or people who just want to simply take nice, cinematic videos.

"The iPhone 13 Pro, however, just works with whatever you point the camera towards. Being able to see instant results just by switching over [to] the Cinematic mode is pretty amazing in my opinion."

Credit: Zendyll Music

It's a common saying in the photo/video world, that the best camera is the one you have with you since it's the one that you'll be taking photos with.

HYPEBONG agrees: "I feel that the iPhone 13 Pro really takes this to a whole new level. In a world where people are trying to document their daily lives, create content, while still trying to be in the moment, the iPhone 13 Pro fits really nicely for that specific purpose. (..) It's not necessary to bring out your mirrorless camera with four other lenses anymore."

And if you think that filming with the iPhone might have resulted in limitations compared to a professional camera, think again.

HYPEBONG said: "For the most part, filming with the iPhone 13 Pro was actually much faster for us! We breezed through the shots because using it isn't rocket science. That and the fact that you could change your focus points and depth of field AFTER filming meant we had room to tweak the shots in the Photos app."

If you haven't had a chance to listen to "you should have said so" or to watch the music video, you really should check it out here.

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